Lift-off for South Africa’s satellite

18 September 2009

South Africa’s low-orbit satellite, SumbandilaSat, was launched into space from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome on the evening of Thursday, 17 September, with Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor among those who travelled to the central asian country to witness the event.

According BuaNews, the Russian Soyuz rocket carrying the satellite lifted off at exactly 5:55pm local time, to rousing applause from the South African contingent, after its scheduled Wednesday launch was postponed due to bad weather.

The 80-kilogramme satellite, built at a cost of R26-million, has a primary payload consisting of a remote sensing camera and a secondary payload consisting of a fixed vibration string experiment.

Orbiting at a height of 500km, SumbandilaSat will collect data for use in the management of natural disasters like floods, fires and oil spills in southern Africa. It will also be able to measure temperatures at sea and land, clouds and rainfall, winds, sea levels, ice cover, vegetation cover and gases.

Developmental satellite

Speaking to SAinfo in June, the Department of Science and Technology’s space science general manager, Valanathan Munsami, said SumbandilaSat is a developmental satellite designed and built in South Africa to showcase local capabilities, and as such is much cheaper than most commercial satellites.

The project was carried out in partnership with SunSpace and Information Systems, the University of Stellenbosch, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Satellite Application Centre at Hartebeesthoek, north-west of Johannesburg.

The university was responsible for managing the project as well as training the students, while SunSpace was tasked with building the satellite.

Munsami told SAinfo that Stellenbosch University would be responsible for the satellite during the commissioning and stabilisation phase immediately after separation, while the Satellite Application Centre would be responsible for operations, telemetry, tracking, control as well as data capturing thereafter.

The Satellite Application Centre will receive image data from SumbandilaSat and will monitor and control the satellite, maintain it and programme it to perform its various functions.

SumbandilaSat will be South Africa’s second satellite, after the launch of SunSat 1, a modest satellite built by students and lecturers at Stellenbosch University in 1999.

SAinfo reporter

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